Jungpana tea estate. File picture
Darjeeling, Aug. 8: The state government has threatened to break open Jungpana tea garden’s godown and release foodgrain to workers if the management of the closed estate does not distribute rations within 24 hours.
The tea garden has suspended work from July 31, citing unreasonable demands and intimidation by a union backed by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
This is the first time in recent memory that the administration has threatened to break open the ration shop of a closed tea garden.
The government has cited humanitarian considerations but local Trinamul leaders expressed the hope that the stand would help the party’s labour wing gain a toehold in the garden where the Morcha-backed outfit is the sole union.
Kurseong sub-divisional officer U. Swaroop said today: “We have directed the management of Jungpana tea garden to distribute the ration within 24 hours, failing which the administration will distribute it to the garden workers and their dependents. The garden has declared suspension of work and if the workers do not get foodgrain, it could lead to starvation deaths and breach of peace and tranquillity in the area.”
Swaroop said Section 144 of the CrPC empowered the administration to take the proposed action.
Tea industry sources said the Jungpana management was studying the order.
In the work suspension notice, the management had said: “During the period of suspension of work, no subsidised ration, wages, salaries and other statutory obligations would be fulfilled. However, essential services like water, watch and ward, etc would continue to operate.”
Swaroop said the management had collected a fortnight’s ration from the distribution centre before the garden was closed.
“If the management fails to open the ration shop within 24 hours, we will break it open and distribute foodgrain either on Sunday or Monday. The cost of opening the ration shop will have to be borne by the management,” Swaroop said.
A worker is entitled to 1 kilo of rice and 2.3 kilos of wheat flour per week. A worker’s dependent is entitled to 500gm of rice and 700gm of flour a week. The rate at which the ration is sold is 47 paise a kilo.
Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal adviser to the Darjeeling Tea Association, said he was not aware of the order. “I was attending a wage negotiation meeting at Siliguri and this issue has not been brought to my notice yet.”
The Morcha-affiliated Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union is the sole operating trade union in the Kurseong garden. Two rounds of meetings have failed to lift the suspension.